Communication Design

Learner Community Projects

Are you looking for an injection of creative thinking?


Our Communication Design learner are available to help your business or organisation with projects. They can provide additional resource for those projects which you may not have time to get onto in the short to medium term.

Ellen Wilcox S4 010 smaller

Learners work in teams over a period of up to six weeks at various times during their academic year. They will research the need that you have identified, then use their creativity and design skills to conceive possible solutions. The most promising solutions will be developed in consultation with you and presented as prototypes for you to pick up and implement.

So if you are open to ideas about how to address identified issues or opportunities, please contact us with an indication of what that issue or opportunity is.

Contact details

The contact lecturer for Communication Design is Professor Caro McCaw,

Examples of past learner projects

Organic Traders Association
Communications Design student Charlotte Burt reflects on her final year project.

As a designer, Charlotte believes design is all about effective communication and solving real world problems that help our planet and people. She is inspired by nature, bold typography and bright colour palettes.

Charlotte was pleased that she was able to utilise these values during her major project by working with an Ōtepoti-based association with similar philosophies. The Organic Traders Association is a community-based group of organic growers and retailers who required a new brand identity, as well as a website design and business merchandise.

Charlotte says:

"This awesome opportunity allowed me to apply the various skills I have learnt throughout my studies at the Otago Polytechnic."


Clinton Chambers is the Chair of the Organic Traders Association and  engaged Charlotte to conduct this project for the Association:

"I am rapt with what she came up with and I think she captured the essence of our association very successfully." 


May 2023

Geology Department, University of Otago
Suitable activities can help interest young children in the geology of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The University of Otago's Geology Department sought assistance from our Communication Design ākonga (students) to review their Rocks for Tots outreach project. The project aims to engage children aged 2 to 6 with an interest in geology, through early childhood education centres. 

The team of ākonga created a variety of interesting activities that would attract children in this age range, all of which had to be easily transportable to different venues and safe for the children to use.

  • A 3D puzzle of Zealandia is based on a topographical map, showing the different sizes at different elevations, with the New Zealand islands the only parts now above sea level.
  • A set of cards provide information about creatures found in ancient Zealandia. The reverse sides of the cards together make a puzzle map of Zealandia. Stickers of the creatures could be added to the cards.
  • A set of painted wooden or 3D printed "rocks" would help children learn about balance, weight and gravity. The column shapes were inspired by the "organ pipe" formations of basalt near Dunedin.
  • A shake table or sheet could simulate an earthquake for the stacked rocks or other construction by the children.

The team of ākonga also created a fresh modern brand for the Rocks for Tots programme.

July 2023

Otago Museum
Whether at the museum or taking something home to work with, learning is enhanced when children are engaged.

Otago Museum is always seeking innovative ways to engage visitors and has also been a long-standing collaborator with Otago Polytechnic, supporting our learners. In 2022 two more of our Communication Design learners worked on projects with Otago Museum.

Suzanne Voice developed her skills in graphic design, software, laser printing, spray painting and paper craft in designing sculpture, sketch and weaving stations:

"My project aimed to create fun, interactive art stations for people to engage with at the Otago Museum."

Stefan Savage-Mason is inspired by the variety of design styles visible in Dunedin, particularly the street art. 

"I have created a stencil kit that serves a dual purpose - to get children thinking more creatively, and show off the diverse career pathways that Otago Polytechnic has to offer."

Visitors to Otago Museum will be able to engage with Stefan's and Suzanne's work as part of the exhibition Ka Mua, Ka Muri – Walking Backwards into the Future at Otago Museum until 14 May 2023.

February 2023

Te Whatu Ora - Southern (formerly Southern District Health Board)
A video by Communication Design learner Best Apisit showcases historic Dunedin artefacts.

As part of the final paper for his Graduate Diploma in Design (Communication), Best Apisit had to choose between doing his own project, a client project, or an internship.

“I chose the internship because I wanted to have the experience of working with people, and the hospital is a place where I could bring my skill and perspective to help people.” 

During his internship with Te Whatu Ora – Southern, Best designed posters, made videos, created logos, and made an infographic of the New Dunedin Hospital’s Outpatient Building. Best was surprised that his hospital internship also involved dealing with historical objects. He worked with the New Dunedin Hospital project office to create the Unearthed Ōtakou exhibition, which showcased some of the items found on the building site.

Best created a video showcasing some of the archaeological finds from the New Dunedin Hospital site, using photographs by fellow intern Tom de Silva and words from New Zealand Heritage Properties. The Unearthed Ōtakou exhibition was displayed in the Dunedin Hospital cafe for staff to see.

“I didn’t know that underneath the hospital site they’d have some artefacts. It’s interesting that we can learn the history of the people that were here before. It’s that sort of thing that really excites me about design – discovering new challenges and ways to communicate.”

January 2023

Environmental advocacy
Learners from two countries engage with the "more-than-human" world.

Ecologist David Abram's phrase "the more-than-human world" speaks of the entanglement of human beings with the rest of the natural world. A deep engagement with the natural world is a strength of many indigenous cultures, and this interconnected perspective encourages designers to move beyond human-centred design.

Associate Professor Caro McCaw's Communication Design learners in Ōtepoti Dunedin worked in collaboration with Louise St Pierre's learners at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. The two design schools connected through DESIS, an international network of design labs that research social innovation and sustainability. The learners' research project tasked them with becoming advocates for a non-human being in their own locality. Each learner produced a species card for themselves as well as for their chosen non-human being, positioning humans among rather than above non-humans. 

Applying their design skills in their research into the issues and possible approaches resulted in a variety of prototypes to convey their learning about their chosen species. Themes of communication and storytelling resonated through the projects. Examples are:

  • A shelf that clips onto a window, as a landing deck for birds
  • A podcast series featuring classmates' beings
  • A survey of mushroom foragers
  • A set of tiles about the different sounds of a stream
  • Swimming, or running barefoot, as a form of engagement

Caro and Louise say that the qualities of attention and listening permeated all projects, either directly or indirectly, and all led to a change of relationship between the designers and other beings.

November 2022

Queenstown Lakes District Council
A pest species could provide an economic opportunity.

Because tourism has been such a big part of Queenstown's economy, the restrictions on domestic and international travel due to COVID-19 have had huge economic impacts for the community. One of our Communication Design learners, Hanna Anstiss, wanted to do something in response, to use design-thinking to try and find some solutions.

One idea of her initiatives is a brokering service called On Set. The Queenstown Lakes District Council's economic diversification plan includes creative industries, and many properties are sitting empty at present. This service would link photographers with properties as locations for photo shoots. Hanna has built the online platform for On Set and hopes that someone will pick this up and run with it.

Another local issue is the wilding pines that are a pest species in the hills around Queenstown. The removal of these pines creates an opportunity to use them as an economic resource. Hanna soaked pine chips to make paper, then made ink from charcoal she produced from burnt pine. The ink can be used to print on the paper to create sustainable packaging, which would be especially suitable for a pine oil product. 

June 2022

Merc Lady
Cameron Tillotson describes making the music video which has won Gold for Student Moving Image at the 2021 Best Design awards.

"Dunedin-based band Merc Lady were looking for a creative way to promote their newly released music. The objective of this project was to provide the band with an animated music video to go with their newly released single, in hope to bring hype and attention to the band. Their aesthetic is organic, authentic and raw, so I wanted to express and heighten the experience of this throughout the video. The song offers a strong, chaotic and rhythmic feel that excites the listener. I wanted to visualise the intensity and excitement of the song by using bold colours, quick scenes and abstract imagery.

"I began by developing characters that reflected the band members. I decided not to use my tried and trusted methods but chose a more organic and analogue style that would better interpret the band and their music. I immersed myself in finding how different materials would work within the film and how they could be expressed. The materials included were clay, ink, paint, plastics, cardboard, crayons, felts and digital imagery.

"This film also represents my desire to explore mediums, mixing modern techniques with those used in early 20th Century animations. There was an extensive research stage, developing skills in stop motion and software training. The hours that were put in the project were immense, working across analogue and digital animation. The film was a revelation, as it gave me the confidence and belief that I could pursue a career in music video production and animation."

The judges of the Best Design Awards described Cameron's project as bold and fresh, adding: “Great use of stop-motion and a riot of colour come together to create a memorable and original piece of animation.”

April 2022

Creative sector
Two friends and design learners are building connections within the creative sector.

Nuku Collective is based in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa and dedicated to showcasing local creatives through an online publication, aiming to foster connections, collaborations and conversations. Established by Zoe Hart (Communication Design) and Sofia Heke (Fashion Design), Nuku Collective provides an accessible, inclusive space for creatives to have their work showcased and stories told.

Nuku is bicultural and environmentally conscious. Nuku is a te reo Māori word; the verb means to move, shift or extend, and the noun means throughout, all over, through, the earth.

"For us it represents our fluidity in form and function, we aim to create new spaces and new ways of interacting with creatives and their content. Nuku also meaning ‘the earth’ ties in with our strong values of Kaitiakitanga and treating Papatūānuku with aroha."

The Nuku Collective website and Instagram account already exhibit the creative work of many artists and designers, using multimedia design-storytelling techniques to create all the content. As they collaborate with other creatives, Zoe and Sofia are building a community together. 

February 2022

A team of our Communication Design learners has designed a new product for game design company Runaway.

Zoe Hobson, CEO of Runaway, provided the brief, to create a mobile game for their target audience, American women 18 to 25 years old. For this demographic, learners Daisy Amos, Edith O’Neill, James Reed, and Libby Guthrie chose to work within the cottagecore aesthetic, based on a romanticised rural lifestyle. They also embraced Runaway's values, including inspiration from the natural world, and making meaningful connections.

In their single-player game, "Alchemist's Cottage", the player is the alchemist who comes to live in a cottage in the countryside. The game is populated by animal characters, beginning with a goat called Poppy who introduces the player to the world. As the alchemist the player collects recipes and grows ingredients to craft remedies. By helping the characters, the player builds friendships and contributes to restoration of community and ecosystem. Different locations and resources are unlocked as the game progresses.

Daisy, Edith, James and Libby created a detailed User Story which they pitched to Zoe and Lead Designer, Jeff Laird, at Runaway's Dunedin studio. The feedback was very positive with the team being complimented on how well they were able to capture the spirit of a Runaway game.

December 2021

South Alive
A new History Trail map will help build pride for South Invercargill residents.

South Alive is an urban rejuvenation project, led by the community, with the goal of identifying the best possible future for South Invercargill and ways to make it happen. The charitable trust delivers projects that the community have identified as important to them. Volunteers from the community action these projects. Its priorities include beautification and enhancing amenities, and encouraging community participation and pride. 

One of their projects is development of a South Invercargill trail guide. Communication Design learner Ellen Wilcox worked with South Alive to produce a fold out map for the trail. The map will guide walkers around eight locations in South Invercargill. 

"My design is tailored to help engage young families with vibrant colors and visuals. It was also important to me to reflect the South Alive brand in my design which I achieved through patterns and color motifs."

Display panels at each site will provide information about local history. This project will be ongoing into 2021 as Ellen continues to work on the information panels as volunteers complete the research.

April 2021

Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua
Visitors are welcome at a small island reserve close to Dunedin.

Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua is a quiet retreat in the middle of Otago Harbour.  The island's English name refers to a period of its history when it housed new immigrants temporarily in the event of infectious disease on their ship, but it has a longer history with tangata whenua. It is managed now by a community group which has a dual emphasis on conservation of the island's history and ecology. 

Teams of Communication Design learners were asked to develop brand assets for the community group, to promote Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua to volunteers and visitors. The broad brief gave them scope to experiment with ideas and skills. Their work was hampered by the COVID-19 lockdown but eventually some did have the opportunity to visit the island and record interviews and scenery.

  • The learners worked up several different logos for consideration, drawing on the profile of the island and the colour palette of earth, foliage, sky and sea.
  • Live video footage was edited, with old photographs, some animation, and bird calls used to create different effects.
  • A 3D map of the island draws attention to features and may function as a website navigation tool.
  • A complementary interactive website enhances the group's existing web presence.

Prototypes were presented to members of the community group, who felt that the learners had done a great job of capturing the essence of people's experience of the island.

August 2020

Legal Issues Centre, University of Otago
A learner's animations are helping to explain legal terms.

The University of Otago's Legal Issues Centre is aware that complex processes and specialised legal jargon make it harder for people to navigate New Zealand's justice system. To start addressing this issue, in 2018 they produced a series of nine animations that explained a few things, such as where and how to get help with a legal dispute. 

Our Communication Design learner Catherine Chin developed the next set of animations in 2019. She was selected for a student summer scholarship with the University, and this animation work contributed to her Postgraduate Certificate in Design.

The six new videos which she produced for the Legal Issues Centre explain common legal terminology that can puzzle non-lawyers. They should help people to understand what is happening and why in their legal proceedings.

July 2020

Orokonui Ecosanctuary
Digital technology can be used effectively to engage people.

The Orokonui Ecosanctury has been successfully increasing its population of kākā, so that the birds are now flying out of the sanctuary and into the surrounding areas. However, many perils lie beyond the safety of the predator-proof fence, including stoats, domestic pets, and possibly the biggest threat of all: humans. To ensure this precious founding population thrives, the local community surrounding the Ecosanctuary needs to be empowered with the knowledge to protect kākā in their own backyards, forming a powerful 'social halo' around the Ecosanctuary.

Honours Design learners Georgia Ryan and Katherine Woodfield worked together on two initiatives to try and improve the chances of survival for kākā. They drew on information and advice from the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, from the Halo Project (trapping pests outside the Ecosanctuary), and Otago Museum. 

Their first project was to create a Virtual Reality environment in which users can see kākā fly into a forest clearing to feed and hear them tell their stories. Storytelling is a powerful way to learn about the birds.

Their second project is a web-based game, where players have to make choices, for example about food, planting, fencing, that can make a residential property kākā friendly or not. By playing the game people will learn how to look after kākā. 

June 2020

Town Belt Kaitiaki
Dunedin's town belt is a significant green asset but probably under-utilised.

The Town Belt in Dunedin curves around the central city in a green arc about 7 km long. Consisting largely of native bush and open parks and sportsfields, the town belt forms a break between the inner city and outer suburbs. The Town Belt Kaitiaki is a community group set up to support local schools to use the town belt for outside education, building student awareness of and engagement with the town belt. The group comprises some professionals with ambassadors from Dunedin primary and secondary schools.

A partnership between Town Belt Kaitiaki and our Communication Design learners in early 2019 provided a good opportunity for project-based learning for the learners, organised by Associate Professor Caro McCaw. After a presentation by Town Belt Kaitiaki representatives about their activities and goals, teams of learners set out to learn more about the town belt and how they could help. The learners applied their design skills to a range of projects:

  • Logo and brand identity, including production of a brand manual
  • Wayfinding and rubbish bins
  • Paper maps - prototypes produced for the north and south areas
  • Website - prototype produced
  • Mobile app - prototype produced
  • Character design, representing the 10 most common species in the town belt
  • Event planning - a planner was produced, for multiple events
  • Social media advice, to increase audience and audience engagement
  • Documentary

The learners achieved a lot in the six week timeframe of the project. The results have been presented to the Town Belt Kaitiaki and were well-received. The logo is being used already on the Town Belt Kaitiaki Facebook page. This project is a finalist in the Student Engagement category of the 2019 Green Gown Awards Australasia.

October 2019

Mercy Hospital
Our learners have made an animated video for Mercy Hospital to provide information to patients in a user-friendly way.

Mercy Hospital sought to improve the user experience for colonoscopy patients, who used to be handed a booklet with information about the procedure they were about to undergo. The goal was to give patients a better understanding of colonoscopy in a reassuring and friendly way. Mercy Hospital contacted Otago Polytechnic seeking development of an animated video which patients could view on an iPad.

Four Communication Design learners took on this project under supervision from their Lecturer Jon Wilson. They met with Merrilee Williams, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Mercy Hospital, who provided information about the colonoscopy procedure and the patient journey. The learners distilled this information into key elements, and researched styles and design principles that would be likely to communicate the essential information effectively. They prepared a script and storyboard, completed all the animation frame by frame, and arranged the voice recording and background music.

The learners were pleased with the final product and are proud of themselves for achieving what they set out to do. Their 3.26 minute video is being user-tested with patients and will have a couple more features added before it is finalised for use. Merrilee Williams says:

"I love the creativity they put into the video to make an uncomfortable topic brighter and reassuring. The voice of the video is Emma, our lovely reception lady, she often speaks to the patient on the phone prior to admission, she sounds familiar and comforting which was really important to me. The colors and animations the girls used are so clever, they also picked up patterns from elements within the day stay facility, Manaaki, again adding to the feeling of familiarity with the environment they are having their colonoscopy in. So clever!"

Update November 2020: The finished video was one of the 13 projects entered into Mercy’s 2020 Quality Awards. Judges commended the project for its patient collaboration and for its national reach through being published as a resource by Bowel Cancer New Zealand.

November 2018

Prospect Park Productions
Our Communication Design learners have supported a local theatre production.

Prospect Park Productions produced the play “Eloise in the Middle”, written by Dunedin playwright Emily Duncan. Director Jordan Dickson approached lecturer Jon Wilson, who teaches Communication Design at Otago Polytechnic, about a possible collaboration on the production. The play is about a child, portrayed by an adult actor, who is caught in the middle when her parents separate. The production needed projected content, both animated and filmed, to help communicate the story to both adults and children. A team of nine learners worked on this project with Jon. 

The short film they produced shows the wedding of Eloise's parents, her mother pregnant, and Eloise as a baby. It needed to be of professional standard, as the character of Eloise's father is a professional film-maker.

During the story, projections of animations were placed alongside the actor to help enhance the experience and show the perspective of the two characters, Eloise and her mother. The goal was animations that flowed naturally along with the actor and story. 

"Eloise in the Middle" was performed at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery from 29 September to 6 October 2018.

September 2018

Contact us

If you’re not sure what to study and would like some guidance, we’re here to help. Feel free to chat to us directly about any questions you may have.